I have a secret arsenal of knowledge, and it is this. Little House on the Prairie. The tv show, not the books. Have I ever outed this about myself on this here blog before? But there. I said it. I am not ashamed!
Chances are, if you are around my age, you may have a part of your brain that is tapped into Little House too. It was a pretty popular show for kiddies back in the day. Not only that, there was a wealth of syndication where the show was played during afterschool hours so in the 80s, if you were watching after school tv, you kind of had to intentionally steer yourself away from that show in order to miss it.
I don’t know what it is about certain things that are pop culture-ish, but they stick in my head in a most alarming way. I can quote Little House on the Prairie, chapter and verse. Why can’t I have this ability when it comes to scientific and historic events, or even when it comes to remembering my grocery list? For everything else in life, I have to write things down, make lists, look things up. But for certain movies, tv shows, music…it’s all right there. RIGHT THERE.
Yesterday, my friend Map sent me an email wherein she explained that she stumbled across a rerun of the Little House movie “The Last Farewell.” She didn’t even have to go on to explain what that was. She knows that I would know that that was the final episode, where the residents of Walnut Grove blow up their town. (I am not kidding. They end the series by blowing up their own town! TELL ME that isn’t awesome). Not only that, she called it “The Last Goodbye” and I knew right away that she meant “The Last Farewell.” Sick, right?
Not only that, she emailed me a ton of questions about the show, because, you know, Little House can be kind of fucked up and confusing for the uninitiated. Things like logic and making sense don’t sometimes happen on that show. She must have emailed me like fifteen or twenty questions. And I just ripped off all the answers. Like THAT. I kind of spook myself out when I do shit like that, you know?
My relationship with Little House on the Prairie may seem odd to those who knew me growing up and who know me now. I wasn’t raised in a farming community, nor do I know anything about rural life in general. I grew up in a factory town, with all the gritty urban ambience of smokestacks and steel. My favorite shows as a child were Fat Albert and Good Times, and I just couldn’t relate to Walton’s Mountain or the Dukes of Hazzard. None of my friends watched those kinds of shows, and neither did I.
But then, when I was a kid, LHOTP (oh yes! I acronymmed it!) reruns started playing every day after school. I remember my mom started watching them because there were things on that show that, oddly enough, reminded her of her childhood. She grew up on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and her family used things like hurricane oil lamps and outhouses when she was a child. “Look,” she would tell me excitedly during the episode “Sylvia,” where Albert apprentices as a blacksmith. “That’s the kind of metal work your grandad used to do.” “Uh-huh,” I would reply absently, too freaked out by the masked mystery man to pay attention to what she was saying. (If you have any idea what I am talking about with that episode, we could SO be bffs).
My mom’s love affair with Little House was short-lived. After a few weeks of watching it day after day, my progressive, lefty mom started to grumble. “That Mrs. Oleson is just a reflection of why patriarchy is afraid of strong women who have their own money,” she would rail. No response from me, as I was glued to the screen. “That Hester Sue couldn’t be any more Aunt Jemima-ish if they tried. Just sickening!” she would say.
It was too late, Mom. I was hooked. I can’t even tell you exactly what it was that got me. I just couldn’t stop watching, even as I saw every episode and saw them all over again. I watched until my burgeoning adolescent schedule pulled me away from my after-school Walnut Grove visits.
Flash forward twenty years. I had recently moved into a new duplex apartment, which was shared on the other side by Neighbor J. She and I were instantaneously friends as we had so many things in common. We talked incessantly about any topic of interest, and it was only a short time before she mentioned Little House.
“That so-and-so works so hard, it’s like he’s Pa Ingalls!” was the way it started.
Me: “What did you say?”
Her: “Oh, nothing. It’s just that on that show Little House on the Prairie, there were always these episodes where Pa works so hard that he hurts himself. If you watched that show…”
Me: Say no more. I haven’t seen that show in years, but I have this uncanny ability of remembering them all.
Her: You’re kidding.
Me: Nope. I’ll prove it. Ol’ Dan Tucker was a fine old man…
Her: …washed his face in a frying pan…
From that day forward, Neighbor J and I fed off of each other in our love for Little House. It was scary, the things we remembered. We had, it seemed, whole sections of our brains that were solely meant to store LHOTP facts and memories.
Now you guys know me and my friends by now. We are not calico-wearing girlies. We do not harken back to prairie times, we do not eat stew. We are bonafide cutting edge ladies. We eat sushi, we like Jon Stewart, we read Erdrich more than we ever read Wilder. We would rather wear Chanel No. 5 than Lemon Verbena. And yet.
Yet, we have this long-standing, inexplicable, undeniable adoration for Laura, Mary, Nellie, and all the rest (ok, except for Nancy). It’s a closeted love that yearns to be free. We have often talked about the fact that there HAS to, there just HAS to be other people our age, in our demographic, who grew up with Walnut Grove and who see it as we do. We know it’s cheesy. We know that Pa will well up with emotion in almost every episode. We know that Carrie seems stuck at age three for ten years straight. We know all of this. But we love them anyway. And we have an inkling that there are more like us out there.